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In 1966, Charles Whitman ascended a tower at the University of Texas and opened fire on people below. He killed 14 and injured 31 before he was shot to death by law enforcement.

The University of Texas massacre is considered to be the beginning of mass shootings in the United States and it is worth noting that earlier that same day, Mr. Whitman shot and killed his mother and his wife.

 Shootings Linked to Domestic Violence

While mass shootings are thought to be random, or linked to mental illness or violent video games, the facts do not bear this out. There is, however, a common denominator that is often left out of the discussion of gun violence: domestic violence. One study showed that 54% of mass shootings were related to domestic violence. In these cases, 43% of the victims were children.

From the Texas shooting in 1966, to the massacre in Las Vegas in 2018, to the nearby Aurora factory shooting this year, perpetrators of gun violence frequently have long histories of domestic abuse.

One in four women in this country will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, and the presence of a firearm dramatically increases the danger. Public health experts say an abused woman is five times more likely to be killed by her abuser if he owns a firearm. Statistics also show that a woman in the U.S. is fatally shot by her partner every 16 hours.

In addition, more than four million women in the U.S. have had intimate partners threaten them with a gun, while one million have been shot at by their partners.

It is clear that when an abuser has access to firearms, the risk of a domestic homicide increases. But what researchers and activists are zeroing in on lately is the homicide risk to the general public when an abuser has guns.

Domestic Violence an “Important Red Flag”

Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, explained this connection to The New York Times in August. “Most mass shooters have a history of domestic or family violence in their background. It’s an important red flag,” she said.

While there are some federal and state laws that prohibit those convicted of certain domestic violence crimes from acquiring guns, there are too many loopholes that allow abusers to keep their firearms. Even when laws exist that mandate law enforcement to seize weapons at the scene of a domestic violence incident – as in Illinois – research shows that officers often do not seize these weapons.

At YWCA Evanston/North Shore, we work to provide women, families and our local communities freedom from violence. Therefore, we are stepping up our efforts to partner with law enforcement, criminal justice advocates, legislators, public health and safety officials and others to ensure that current gun laws are implemented, loopholes are closed and those who deal with domestic violence situations involving firearms receive the education and training they need to ensure the safety of victims and bystanders.

Conference on November 20

On Nov. 20, in partnership with Oakton Community College, we are presenting our annual domestic violence conference. This year, we are focusing on the lethal relationship between gun violence and domestic violence.

Kristen White is Chief Operating Officer, YWCA Evanston/North Shore